A very busy month at work as usual so no time for any work at the house. Weekends were spent in the unit packing orders and getting ready for Christmas, and everybody seemed to come down with very bad colds (including me which is unusual). I did buy a cast iron basket for a real fire which was good fun, although a little smokey as the cowl is just too small for the big fireplace. At the unit we had out usual stock take immediately after Christmas and I also had to clear half the warehouse ready for the mezzanine floor that is being fitted in the first week in January. The rest of the trees we had ordered were delivered so we need to get some time to plant and pot these soon.
We did manage to accidentally shut the gate to the chicken run so they couldn't get back in. When we went to shut them away at 7pm (and -3 degrees) we couldn't find Tikka. After a couple of hours searching our "rescue dog" finally found her shivering in the middle of the bush trying to keep warm.
We spent a whole day ordering lots of trees (over 100) for the back garden. Instead of paying top money for mature trees we bought lots of young small twigs for a fraction of the cost. We intend planting them in pots for a year or two until they are bigger before putting them in place in the garden. The first batch arrived after a few days and they were potted until ready for planting. We planted the wild garlic that Karen bought in Birch Grove between the trees, a reminder of our honeymoon on Sark where it grew in abundance. Karen had the yearly job of collecting up all the sycamore leaves from the front garden which we burned (because of the black spot).
Emma, Luke and I prepared the study ready for the the new heating system, by running two hefty cables and a mains water feed. I took a few days off work to help John install the Daikin Altherma system. Although initially the system will only heat 2 bedrooms upstairs, ultimately it will heat the whole house (when I get the time to install the underfloor heating in each room). While I was off I also began work on leveling the ground for the Tractor Barn which was erected at the end of the month. Unfortunately I spent the first day just getting Izzy running again because all the controls had seized up, which is why the barn is needed sooner rather than later.
Because the days are getting dark early I installed a light in the chicken coop and now that Korma has grown back all her feathers I dismantled the "hospital wing" of the chicken run and removed the upper fence extensions. They just have no idea how to fly over the 4 feet high fence! Unfortunately mice have finally found the chickens and have chewed the bottom of the door during the night so I had to put out some traps.
Another slow month saw very little progress in the house. We did finally remove the old "rags" that were hanging on net cords in the lounge and put up new rails and curtains. After two and a half years we can finally shut the outside world out. I also put up a blind in the ensuite.
I ordered and took delivery of 8 big plastic drums off eBay which had been used for the delivery of cooking oil. At £14 each these will make cheap water butts.
Outside, Emma and Luke helped me move a couple of logs into the Rhododendron Walk to mark out the paths. The hard work in there has yet to start! Karen and I went to a garden centre in Sidcup and got the idea for a summer hut in the back garden... that is on the "one day" list!
At the end of October Terry started to strip the front wall with a needle gun and repaint it so I had to remove the dog heads which had been firmly cemented in place. They will end up at the end of the back garden with glowing eyes. I measured up the area for the tractor barn and placed an order for that. It will take 3 weeks for delivery by which time I need to have prepared the base.
One evening while sitting in front of the TV Luke suddenly exclaimed, "Woh, what is that in the dining room?" It was a bat that had somehow got into the house but could not escape. It finally got so tired flying around that it stopped and clung to the ceiling long enough for us to take a photo and carefully capture it in box to release it outside.
On Saturday 13th, Emma was a complete star and selflessly helped us build all the new furniture for Luke's room and help him move in. She then helped move all of Sarah's furniture downstairs into the front bedroom where she will stay while her bedroom is stripped out and renovated.
The quote for the supply and installation of an air source heat pump from The Fuel Effect came in at £7000. They obviously install many units and are very confident in their service and the product they supply, the Altherma system by Daikin. We asked John (Sustainable Technology Ltd), who had fitted our solar panels, to also come in and provide a quote. Our new urgent task was to clear the huge amount of brambles and weeds from the side of the house ready for the installation. The area was so overgrown it was difficult to open the gate to get in there. Over two weekends we got the area cleared and ready for the installation. We cut back the weeds, dug off the top layer of soil (ballast) and removed the tarpaulins that the previous owner had quickly laid to tidy the house ready for sale. While karen and I did this Emma and Luke collected up two trailer loads of shingle from the back garden. We dug up what ever roots we could then covered the whole area with the sifted ballast before putting down multiple layers of thick ground cover membrane and finishing off with the shingle. Unfortunately, in doing this I over stressed my knee and now I'm unable to walk or drive which will also put a dampener on my surfing trip to Cornwall next week.
Finally, in an attempt to stop the rabbits from chomping their way through the laurels we surrounded the whole area with chicken wire which will hopefully give them a fighting chance to get established.
August (my 40th birthday) was a very slow month and not much work was done on the house at all, apart from insulating the underfloor heating pipes and general maintenance and gardening. During her time off, Karen spent some back breaking days pulling out weeds from the borders, drive and patio. Other than that we waited for the new furniture for Luke but after 4 weeks that didn't arrive and we had a company come in to discuss air source heat pumps which seem to be a viable and simpler alternative to ground source. We also got a quote for someone to strip the front garden walls and repaint them. Without the proper equipment to strip the old covering it is a pain of a job so it makes sense to pay someone else to do it. The last quote this month was to replace the old iron water pipes that lead into the house. It seems like the best option is to dig the trenches and let the waterboard make the connection.
By the way, in the first full year the solar panels generated 1400 KWh of hot water heating!
I took three days off work while Karen was in Germany to rip up the floor of Luke's bedroom and fit the underfloor heating pipes. Not as easy as I expected, the Speedfit PEX pipe was inflexible and where the rafters crossed over from the old extension made it very difficult to fit the heat spreader plates. I had to disconnect the pipework for the old radiator and install new pipes to keep the radiator in Sarah's room working. I fed the heating pipes under the floor and down into the study and we fitted the last of the insulation board in the eaves.
Having painted the room, Karen waxed the woodwork and I fitted the architrave and skirting ready for the carpet which was fitted at the end of the month. Just waiting for the new furniture to be delivered. Also, now that Karen is on her summer break she arranged for the building inspector to come around and certify the completed extension, better late than never.
The main focus in June was to continue with Luke's bedroom, however some time was spent sectioning off the chicken run to house Korma during the day. She is being so badly attacked and pecked by the others that she still can't grow her feathers on her back. We provided shelter from the sun by cutting a door in the old water tank and sectioned off the run by fixing up another trellis panel.
One weekend was taken up by Emma and her seven 14 year old friends camping at the end of the garden and also planting our first vegetables in pots on the patio. Other than that it was just more work on the bedroom. We decided on the shade of blue and painted the room, fitted the door to the water tank cupboard and revitalised the windows with new handles and lubrication. Karen rubbed down the woodwork ready for waxing and painted the window sills. We painted the walls and I created the access covers to the eaves out of MDF.
The real good news this month was being notified that my main client is discontinuing Lotus Notes in the next 12 months so the race is now on to try and pay as much of the mortgage as possible.
This month I took a few days holiday from work to finish off Luke's bedroom. Before I could finish off the insulation in the roof space, put up the ceiling and install the rest of the lights, I had to replace the valve in the heating header tank, put in the plumbing from the new tank to the bathroom and run the network and power cables. After that I removed the old narrow doorway and installed a new full size frame and door, before finishing off the walls. The next job was to build a cupboard around the new water tank which I almost finished while Karen cleared the room ready for the plasterer.
Outside it was mainly a case of general maintenance although I did manage to do some work on the fence, removing a lot of the old wire changing it from 3 bar to 4 bar. One mystery we found is that there is a ridge tile missing from above Sarah's room but it isn't on the ground anywhere. Who would want to steal a ridge tile?
We took the van up to Woolwich to collect about 2 tonne of paper for shredding and against better judgement (for the sake of the suspension) on the way back we stopped off to pick up a couple of rose arches from Bexleyheath. The kids and I built these and put them at the entrances to Birch Grove (with the help of Izzy). Unfortunately the rabbits have recently taken a fancy to our laurals having shown no interest for months and have stripped some of them back to twigs.
Paul Brown, having recovered from a back injury came round and put in the missing flashing on the chimney and replaced the tiles. He also fixed a couple of tiles that were slipping down on the new extension. Being on holiday Karen finished off painting the trellis. She is sick of the site of them! I put up the door to the chicken coop, aka The Taj Mahal, aka The Stockbury Penitentiary for Wayward Chickens. Although good and functional the door does look like it belongs to a prison cell. It should keep them safe from the local foxes which is just as well because we got a call from the Battery Hen Wellfare Trust asking us to come and collect some chickens from their Essex centre. Somebody had let them down so we jumped the queue and rushed over there on the Sunday evening (20th). It was a memorable end to our anniversary weekend.
This month started with a real push to convert the old kennel a the back of the workshop into a chicken coop ready for when we get some ex-battery hens. Emma and Luke helped all day sawing and painting to make nest boxes, door frames and trellis for the run. Everything has been made out of old wood and fencing that we already had, only the paint and hinges needed to be purchased. We made the door out of an old packing table left in the unit when we bought it and has got a ventilation hatch and a cat-flap type opening at the bottom. The door kind of looks like it has come from a prison cell but it will certainly keep them safe. Karen did a sterling job undercoating and painting all the panels of trellis. I put up the posts around the chicken run and isn't always the way, I dug down for the last post and 3cm down I hit solid concrete, part of the cess pit.
After much "putting off", the water tank in Luke's bedroom has finally been disconnected and removed and more old plumbing has been removed. Tip: it's never a good idea to cut into a pipe until you've drained the system! Karen says I'm not allowed to do it again but I'm sure I will.
The very high winds we get here had caused a lot of damage to the old fence in the front garden so we had to divert our attentions (and money) to getting it sorted out properly and hired a builder to knock down part of the boundary wall and rebuild it in the existing style. Izzy was very useful in digging up the old foundations and trenching for the new. The builder also put our chimney pot back up (at no extra cost) and confirmed that the rotten timber in the fireplace was purely decorative and not structural, much to our relief. We also spent more time working on Luke's bedroom, finishing off the insulation and putting up the new plasterboard. We also wired in the low energy downlighters which give a much better spread of light than the halogen lights.
We ripped down all the plasterboard from the walls and ceiling in bedroom one and began to remove the pathetically inadequate insulation and replace it with new foam board. We are putting in low energy downlighters so there is some work to do on the electrics before we can put up the new ceiling. The new pipework for the family bathroom also needs to be put in as well as removing the old water tank.
Having removed the old calor gas stove from the fire place we decided we would like to put in a real fire so we had a company come around to remove the old gas flue and check out the chimney. Their quote for the work required was well over the top (probably doubled when they saw the size of the property!) so we decided to do the work ourselves. However, we have always had small puddles of water in the fire place and assumed it was running down the metal flue. After an exceptionally heavy downpour we realised that it was actually coming in between the chimney and the house. A lack of flashing on the chimney meant that water had been getting in for years and the previous owners hadn't bothered correcting the issue, they simply put silicone sealant inside to try and hide the problem. All this achieved was to trap the water above the oak beam and cause it to rot! Another job to get sorted out.
This is the month that we discovered what we thought was a mouse in our kitchen. It had got into the house via a vent in the utility room that was hanging off the wall. After a week of clearing up after it we finally found the little git hiding in the cupboard under the sink, only it wasn't a mouse it was a rat! Needless to say the next day we made sure we bought the traps and caught it. We decided to